A word about the town.
Leaving Wise Words at the end of a busy day, it is impossible not to recall that less than two centuries ago the shop site was the edge of an ephemeral swamp, which had neither seen a wheel nor heard the sound of a gun. I often wonder what lived and grew here.
Moree prides itself on being international and different; the first difference is that when the Gwydir River reaches Moree it splits into distributaries, spreading into creeks and channels that watered the once-vast Gwydir wetlands before joining the Barwon and Murray to flow to the sea. The black soil of this area eroded from the great volcanos of the Nandewar Range that were active until about 15 million years ago.
Settled by emancipists from the Hunter in the 1830’s, by the late 19th century the black soil plains were dominated by international grazing companies and large scale pastoralists. Such was the speed of settlement that indigenous culture was lost more completely than was the case further west where bora grounds and carved trees can still be identified. Present day indigenous Moree is multi-cultural too, as people from across northern NSW and southern Queensland sought work and refuge in the district. By the late 1800’s Moree was a regional banking centre and the building of railways – described by a detractor as sticking out from the town like the spokes of a wheel – cemented its position. The artesian bore was sunk in 1895, and the spa as a tourist destination came into existence with the railway.
The father of P. L. Travers (of Mary Poppins fame) was a bank manager here in the 1890’s and it is intriguing that whilst he was in town there was a run on the bank. Was that the inspiration for a scene in the film? Edward ‘Plorn’ Dickens died at the Criterion Hotel in Moree in 1902, by all accounts forever hostage to the memory – and power – of his father’s writing. Heywood Hill, of the world famous Heywood Hill bookshop in London, was a cousin to the Hill family of Terlings. The dancer and choreographer Michael Leslie is a Moree boy, and his brother Laurence an artist represented in major Australian public galleries. The Australian singer John Williamson (‘Hey True Blue’) came from near-by Tulloona, and the novelist Nicole Alexander, originally from Boomi, is now a valued resident of the town. Local connection Annabelle Hickson has achieved great success with ‘A Tree in the House’, about how to arrange really big flowers.
By the 1970’s cattle remained important, but wool declined and there was move into broad-acre farming. The completion of Copeton Dam in 1973 brought irrigation crops, particularly cotton and American growers came to the area. American expertise also brought pecans to the district, which is now home to the largest pecan orchard in the South Hemisphere.
Moree’s architecture and people reflects its polyglot commercial and government history; from simple weatherboard shops to Free Classical, Art Deco and Brutalist styles, there is plenty to see. The town is identified as an important Art Deco site after major fires in the 1920’s destroyed much of the old town. BAMM (originally the Moree Plains Gallery) is housed in the extravagantly Free Classical old CBC building, and is home to an exceptional collection of Australian Indigenous art. Moree offers a unique visiting experience for anyone interested in art and culture.